Maria’s habit is certainly a tough one to fill. In addition to the queen of doh-ray-me, Julie Andrews’ unforgettable peppy bob, Connie Fisher’s win on BBC1’s ‘How do You Solve a Problem Like Maria’ secured her the iconic role in 2006. Yet this 2015 rendition sees Danielle Hope move on from her own televised victory as sparkly eyed (and shoed) Dorothy in 2010’s ‘Over The Rainbow’ when she was just 18. Hope has obviously matured since we saw her debut, but her Maria is far from straight laced and matronly; she exudes such a natural warmth and goodness that it’s a wonder she isn’t surrounded by a phosphorescent glow. She masters the peaks of the titular song with ease, her voice is crystal clear and without need of excessive vibrato that often masks a weaker voice.
The musical is driven by nostalgia, both for the romanticism and danger of a Nazi riddled Austria (Steven Houghton’s soft rendition of Edelweiss sung in front of four swastika banners elicits much emotion) and for the original Sound of Music in all its Technicolour brilliance. Hats off to musical director David Steadman who takes nuances of a cinematic approach to music, which gently underpins the choreography of the stage in between the big obvious numbers.
The exquisite live orchestra heightens this feeling of a big-scale production, which is again echoed in the sumptuous staging, from the pillars and piously stained glass abbey to the ornate staircase where the infamous Von Trapp children marching occurs to Captain Von Trapp’s whistle. The seven children were the ultimate professionals, their sweet routines and harmonies executed perfectly while creating a believable sibling dynamic. Their blossoming relationship with Maria was perhaps the truer love story of the show, which was both exuberant and tender. A stand out vocal performance came from eldest Von Trapp Liesl played by Grace Chapman whose ’16 going on 17’ dance number with love interest Rolf (played by Luke George) is polished and fun.
I cannot conclude without an appropriate shout out to the nuns of Nonnburg Abbey whose celestial prayer songs are goose-pimple inducing, their virtue paired often with an impish wit best seen in their famous number ‘Maria’. Mother Abbess played by Jan Hartley exudes a matronly softness, with more than a touch of mischief that shapes her as the fairy godmother-like figure, guiding Maria with her rapturous rendition of ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’, no doubt leaving most with slightly damp eyes.
The level of professionalism throughout the show, from musical performances and orchestral accompaniment to set design and choreography, sets the bar incredibly high, making it an absolute must-see. The show, in its final leg of a 7 month long tour will be held for two weeks at The Grand until the 1st of August. Book Here!